Find yourself at home in Tartu
Tartu is the second largest town in Estonia and is best known for being the student capital. The University of Tartu was established in 1632 by the Swedish king and ever since has been a place where the brightest minds both local and international gather. Given the fact that this town is relatively small (a population of around 100 000) and has a high concentration of university students, it welcomes everybody and makes one feel like home within minutes.
The most famous meeting spot for locals is the statue of Kissing Students, in front of Tartu Town Hall, a starting point to get to know the city. Right next to the Town Hall Square is Rüütli Street, with souvenir shops and an array of cafés and restaurants during the day. In the evenings, it is the main street of nightlife on which to enjoy a glass of wine in places like Vein ja Vine (Rüütli 8) or Säde (Rüütli 4) or a craft beer from the impressive selection in J.R. Schramm’i Keller (Rüütli 11).
If you just got here and want to start your day with a hearty breakfast, head straight to Krempel (Rüütli 12), which not only proudly serves the largest cups of coffee in town, but also offers such breakfast food as Pulp Fiction-style blueberry pancakes. Just around the corner from Krempel is Pahupidi Kohvik (Gildi 3), which along with its whimsical upside-down interior offers vegan and gluten-free foods.
The best view of the city can be found on the top of Toomemägi Hill from one of the towers of the Tartu Cathedral, which also houses the University of Tartu museum. In case you find yourself drained from climbing up and down the hills in old town, pay a visit to Werner Café (Ülikooli 11), located right in front of the university’s main building. It is a staple joint among locals, open since 1895, and enticing visitors with their selection of scrumptious cakes and other pastries.
Although most of the historical attractions are located in the Old Town, it is worth exploring the neighbourhoods situated a bit further from the centre. The Estonian National Museum (Muuseumi tee 2), which opened its doors to visitors at the beginning of October, is the largest museum in the Baltic States. Situated on a former airbase runway, it is a monumental piece of architecture, a heartfelt 100 years in the making. There are two permanent exhibitions taking place in the museum: "Encounters" which follows the lives of Estonian people throughout time and “The Echo of the Urals” displays the cultural heritage of Finno-Ugric peoples. The museum has been created in the true spirit of E-stonia and therefore is a hands-on innovative experience. Make sure to plan several hours for a visit, because of the size of the museum and the amount on display.
If you are interested in wooden architecture and the smell of a burning stove reminds you of home, head either to Supilinn (Soup town), which earned its name from the streets being named after vegetables and fruit or to Karlova, located on the other side of the centre. This neighbourhood should also be on the map for coffee lovers as it is the home of Karlova Kohv ( Tähe 63), which is a roastery and a café. On the same street you can also find the prettiest cupcakes in town in Tassikoogid (Tähe 21) and Barlova (Tähe 29) – a bar in Karlova and the Italian home you didn’t know you had.
If however you want to see a part of the industrial Soviet heritage, take a walk up Riia Street to Aparaaditehas (Kastani 42), an old factory complex now a home for local creatives, hosts events and is also the location of the trendiest place for eating out: Aparaat (Kastani 42). Drop into Muhu bakery right next door to grab a loaf of warm Estonian black bread or My Italy food studio if you long for other kind of warmth.
Tartu offers a wide range of activities that can all be reached within a 15-20 minute walk. This makes Tartu the perfect destination for autumn walks around town and cosying up in a café during the dark hours. All of it feels so familiar and safe, just like home.
TEXT ANNA ANTANE, PHOTOS ANDREI CHERTKOV